Playing with the HoloLens

At an extremely spendy price of $3,000 I picked up a HoloLens.  Why so much more than a Rift or Vive?

Well, the biggest difference is instead of tethering to your computer, this thing IS a computer+kinect small enough to wear.

Welcome to the world of mixed reality!  I hope I’m keeping up with my jargon correctly

Mobile VR is trash, HoloLens is different

The current mobile VR solutions (GearVR, Google Daydream, etc) are garbage, you know why? They can’t track positional movement.  Take a step sideways or forward – in the game nothing happens.

This means there is an entire category of games they won’t work with – basically nothing where you move around a room naturally.

HoloLens is different (well, it’s AR/MR and not VR for one, but that’s not the point here), it can fully track position/rotation/acceleration, you can even do something a Vive can’t – you can walk BETWEEN ROOMS and it knows.

Without any complicated setup, you can plop this on someone’s head and it just works, anywhere.  Oh, and it’s fast.  As for tracking your hand.. well, not so fast, we’ll get into that later.

Akiko knows kung-fu

It uses multiple cameras (normal and infrared) to figure out where your walls, table, and chairs  are – and is capable of knowing exactly where your head is located in space.

It’s quick enough to feel nearly as smooth as say, a Vive. I think it’s using acceleration/rotation sensors to do accurate predictions while constantly correcting things with the camera based space-mapping but it works well despite the occasional glitch.

I didn’t expect it to track outside (it must use walls to calculate head position, right?) but it worked fine! I guess it’s scanning the ground or something.

Cool, but here are the problems

At 1268×720 resolution per eye, the objects you’ll see overlaid look great – but that’s mostly because the DPI (dots per inch) are so tiny.

If you hold a piece of A4 paper at arm’s length you’ll get an idea of how small the rendering area is.

The actual screen overlay area is tiny

This means when a spaceship tries to run away in a game, it just gets cut-off unless you turn your head to follow it.  A workaround that games are using is they will pop up an arrow “<– It’s over there!” to help you find it again.  Not great, but hey.

It also isn’t able to overlay graphics too close, like if you set your GL near plane too far away.  You can see the image break apart in the gif below.

Click this gif to view it in action. Don’t blame me if you get sick

Kinect delay is back, baby

It can sort of track one of your hands – but it’s too laggy to be of much use for anything.   It’s a better experience to move your head around to put a centered crosshair on an option, then use the included remote’s satisfying clicker to select something.

Random free idea that makes no sense due to the hardware requirements: Use with a Vive hand control to make a spray paint simulator so you can tag up your house.

Seth’s verdict

The good:

  • The wall mapping and fast, accurate positional tracking is amazing.  This is a hard nut to crack and probably the most impressive thing about the entire HoloLens project
  • Totally self contained unit makes it easier to show people.  I mean, good luck bringing your Vive to Kyoto Indie Meetup
  • It barely works, but it can sort of do smart occlusion around physical objects (if a real chair is in front of the hologram, it won’t render the hologram there) – its 3d scanning is too rough but .. it’s still tantalizing us with what the future will hold

The bad:

  • Costly, it’s squarely in “developers only” territory right now. It’s no surprise it’s only sold “thousands”
  • The tiny video overlay area is very limiting
  • Laggy-ass gesture controls are bad for most gaming
  • Can’t walk up close enough to objects, they disappear
  • UE4 doesn’t support HoloLens as an export target, I don’t think there is a way to build it without fighting with Microsoft’s hacked up version of UE4 they did a while back, no thanks

There are rumors that Microsoft has canceled the 2nd generation HoloLens and are skipping straight to a 3rd gen version slated for release in 2019. Interesting.

Playing with the Fove eye tracking VR headset

vove_headset

It came! This VR headset was on kickstarter back in 2015 and has received some serious investor cash since.

FOVE-VR-Headset-Pre-Order-Announced

Sure, that’s exactly how I use VR…

I’ve been working on prototype games with the Vive (in UE4) but really wanted this primarily to play with its unique feature: real eye tracking.  It has cameras that watch your eyes and figure out where you’re looking – and applications can act on this information.
fove_eyes
No, this isn’t from Resident Evil 7… it’s how it watches you watch.  Yes, it’s creepy.

Currently there is only one demo on the Fove website to try out – I expect more will be added soon – hopefully they will show off foveating rendering and depth of field based on gaze. I want to see if it’s all quick enough to “feel right” or not.  I guess we could always write our own tests as well… maybe later.

fove_test_app
This is the sample app.  That little green and red ball?  That’s where your left and right eyes are currently looking.

My impressions

  • I had some trouble getting it going, but after a few reboots, trying different usb ports, and removing my second monitor it kicked into gear
  • Fove is currently marketing this to “developers, creators, researchers” and I agree that it isn’t ready for the general consumer
  • It’s fiddly.  If your headset shifts on your head AT ALL since you’ve calibrated the eye tracking, it will be way off.  I had the best results if I tried not to move my head at all
  • Sadly, they don’t support Valve’s lighthouse tracking (this was something they were talking about earlier) and it comes with a single infrared camera that tracks points on the helmet. I felt it didn’t track rotation/position as well and accurately as Vive or Oculus Rift does
  • It really does work! I could totally write an eye controlled VR web browser or whatever, that rocks

Conclusion

It’s functional and is very useful to experiment with eye tracking VR technology early.  Eye tracking will probably be a standard feature in all the VR headsets soon enough.

If you just want to play some games, get a Vive.

Why Dead Rising 4 is bad and how I would fix it

I’ve played a lot of games recently but I wanted to stop and think about the shortcomings of Dead Rising 4 (single player campaign without DLC) and what might fix it. (played on Windows 10)

dead4

 

It’s way too easy

I think the biggest misstep here is the difficulty level.  Dead Rising 1 & 2 were extremely hard.

You would fight and die in a limited area over and over – there was a sense of urgency due to the quest timers.  You would fail the first few games, but you could restart the game while keeping your level/upgrades.

In the previous outing, Dead Rising 3 was missing that, but at least forced you to find save points.

But in Dead Rising 4, it auto saves constantly, not that you’ll need it.  I only died once – near the end of the game, and only on a final boss.  There is  zero worry or tension to “make it back to the save point” in this game.

Saving survivors is generic

Ok, I know, everybody hates escort quests, but if each survivor had unique dialog and not TOO far to escort, it would have been more meaningful than the simple “kill all zombies within 5 meters and insta-win” for every single survivor interaction.  Cheap.

Emergency shelters are entirely unnecessary

There are upgradable shelters where you can buy things.  Survivors will show up in these, upgrading them.  I don’t think I visited a single one more than once, and ordered a car only a single time.  They are completely interchangeable and meaningless in the grand scheme of things. A real waste, why even have them if you’re gonna do that.

It was over so quick

It’s a very short campaign.  There is this gorgeous huge mall area but I only ran through it like once, figuring I’d need to come back.  I didn’t.  The game ended suddenly, and that was it.  I only got to kill a couple “Maniacs”, as I incorrectly figured I’d be required to kill some later but never was.  Poor writing, small amount of mission/story content.

Loot was overpowered

There was never any real reason to need new blueprints or carefully make/hoard good weapons or health items. Everything is everywhere in great quantities.

How I would fix it

  • MAKE IT HARD! It should actually be possible to be surrounded by zombies and die.  This would add an element of strategy so you might have to find roof to roof routes instead of how it is now, which is just go anywhere and jump a lot while laughing and being zany.  See Dying Light for an example
  • Cut health in half and kill or dramatically nerf the health regen.  Put the best weapons and health items in logical stores.  If you really have to ruin the game, at least add it as an “Easy mode” and default to normal
  • Ditch the generic “shelters” and instead wrap the narrative around a specific group at one shelter for a  while
  • Need an actual story.  What is here is REALLY bland and squanders the dramatic opportunity a zombie apocalypse can offer
  • Tie maniac killing into the main story line “We need this gasoline stand cleaned out for the generator, so you’ll have to kill the maniac there” type stuff.  Or even a dumb “Kill 2 more maniacs to advance the story” if you have to, anything to control the pacing better
  • For the love of all that is holy, remove auto save and force the player to locate  and use save points, which will then show up on the map
  • Tune difficulty so you’ll stay in each area for much longer doing quests for your “group”. Also have a group.  Control game flow to introduce new areas at a steady rate and learn the maps
  • Ramp up item powers/blueprints slowly, you shouldn’t be able to get the best stuff right away.  After gaining power, modify the rules to keep the early areas difficult again to throw the player off balance.  (Remember those bee things from the first one?)
  • The comedy of putting on crazy clothes is ok, but having the main character randomly give mostly dumb zingers constantly didn’t really work.  I guess I’m asking for better writing, something a bit more subtle with the humor
  • The engine, visuals, and weapon mechanics were all fine, I’d keep those
  • I’m not exactly sure about this one, but I would bring back “restart game with acquired levels/skills” and quest/rescue timers.  It’s a bit controversial but let’s face it, that’s why we’ll never forget the earlier titles in the series

Ok, sorry for the rant but at least I feel better now.  Maybe this just didn’t have the budget or time to do a proper campaign but even with with just balance tweaks and the save point improvements this could have been a much better game.

 

Audiere 64 bit MSVC 2005 development binaries

I needed a Windows 64 bit development version of the audio library Audiere but couldn’t find any precompiled binaries for x64, so I’m posting them here for any future googlers.

http://www.codedojo.com/files/audiere-1.9.4-win32_win64_msvc2005.zip

Why did I need Audiere?  Well, I had switched the Growtopia 64 bit client to use SDL2_mixer and immediately had a rash of complaints from poor audio mixing to no audio at all.

Tried various bit rates, buffer sizes, and driver settings (directsound, etc) , still had weird “drunk” timings and distortion when mixing 4+ sounds.  I got it to the point of “not that bad, on my computer at least” but many players still had major problems.  So back to Audiere we go!

Versions used:

audiere: 1.9.4 (?) forked from Chad Austin’s Audiere on github
flac: 1.3.1
libogg: 1.3.2
libvorbis: 1.3.5

Note:  The 64 bit binaries are missing mod/xm support as I didn’t need them for my project and was too lazy to find and include the Dumb source.

If you’d like an easy way to compile your own 32/64 bit version for MSVC2005, I’ve thrown the entire thing including supporting libraries on github so you can build from source in a single MSVC 2005 solution in Audiere/vc8/audiere.sln:

audiere_solution

Github: https://github.com/SethRobinson/Audiere

Seth’s VR game reviews

It’s an exciting time in the world of VR because everybody is experimenting with various ideas and control schemes – the “genres” are being invented right in front of us!

Here are some quick thoughts on some games and apps I’ve played.

(most of the pics are taken from the store pages, I only linked the Steam-based games as I don’t think you can directly link to Rift store pages)

The Lab (Vive)

vive_the_lab

This is Valve’s thing, it’s a bunch of mini-games experimenting with various controls.  This is the first thing you should download and is better than most of the other stuff for sale.  Did I mention it’s free?

Holopoint (Vive)

vive_holopoint

This is my favorite game on VR.  You jump, dodge, and do cool moves as you shoot arrows in all directions.  You kind of enter a zone, like racquetball or tennis, and your body even gets an equivalent work out.

In many arcade type games, if you don’t shoot something in time, it explodes, shooting projectiles at you.  Here, that’s true, but if you DO shoot it in time, it STILL explodes, just with more controlled timing.  That tweak is what really makes this work.

Audioshield (Vive)

vive_audio_shield

The first VR Rhythm game?  It’s another “must have” and really delivers, but it could be so much better.  Needs the features of a modern Dance Dance Revolution including manual editing of song data (it’s currently all dynamically generated based on song audio as far as I can tell), combo scoring, playlists, pro-made song library, etc.

Overly exuberant particle effects sometimes hurt gameplay by obscuring upcoming “notes”.

Farlands (Rift)

This Oculus showcase title might be the highest quality thing out there for the Rift right now.  Like Lucky’s Tale, for some reason it seems to be aimed at a very young audience.  The annoying overly cutesy side-kick that won’t leave you alone will have you whispering “kill jester”.

But this game (?) does perfectly emphasize the Rift’s strengths – a 360 degree seated experience that doesn’t make you nauseous and they nailed navigating with your little remote thing.  The scenery is gorgeous.

There is a “you have to wait until tomorrow to see more” time-based content gate on this.  Huh.

 

Budget Cuts Demo (Vive)

vive_budget_cuts_demo

If you want to bang your head on the floor trying to look through a hole and have a heart attack as you throw a knife at a robot while screaming for your life, this is the game!

It’s just a demo but it has nicely found a way to merge room VR with larger spaces using a portal like “see before you hop through” mechanic.  It’s a must get, and will be an insta-buy for me when the full version is released. (Steam page says it’s coming later this year)

Ok, screenshots are too much work, so now we’re on to mini-reviews that don’t even have pics.

ADR1FT (Rift)

Nope nope nope.  Jetting around at multiple speeds while rotating in every direction is exactly what you never want to do with VR.  About five minutes in I was ready to hurl.  To be fair, it and most of the other Rift retch-inducing games available are labeled “Comfort: Intense” so I should have known better. I guess some people can handle this type of thing? If you want to star in the movie Gravity as well as enjoy technicolor yawning, this might be for you.

Job Simulator (Vive): Solid but .. it does sometimes feel like a job to play. I guess what I mean is if you get 90% through one of the four job’s “story” and you crash, you probably won’t want to replay it again to see the last 10%. I guess it’s good, just sort of slow paced and linear while simultaneously letting you play with a bunch of virtual toys.

Fantastic Contraption (Vive):  I love the concept and they really nailed the interface but why does part of my car fall apart but the identical thing I did on the other side doesn’t?! What am I doing wrong? My kingdom for a stiff joint!  Only three contraption parts? You probably shouldn’t listen to anything I say here until I can at least pass level 4.

Hover Junkers (Vive): Multiplayer only, my record is 20 deaths, 0 kills. That says everything about my experience with this game.  Probably good once you figure out how to kill anything. Did I even hit that guy?  How much damage did I do?

HordeZ (Vive): Will slowly auto-floating forward down halls as you shoot horrifying realistic zombies work ok with room VR?  Answer, yes.  It’s multiplayer too but I haven’t tried that.

Zombie Training Simulator (Vive): Cartoony zombie shooting gallery. Good if the above game is too much for you I guess.

Space Pirate Trainer (Vive): Not bad, but it just made me want to play Holopoint, similar idea. Still in early access, looking forward to seeing how this shapes up.

Vanishing Realms (Vive): Interesting and probably what most people imagine a “VR fantasy experience” is going to be like.

Universe Sandbox 2 (Vive): OoOoo… I’m so glad this exists.  It’s early access and has some performance issues but spawning planets is surely something you want to do.

Tilt Brush (Vive): Google’s 3D painting app is one of the top experiences on the Vive. Explore other people’s work (wish there was more..) or make your own.  I don’t understand why all the paints are so flat. I want to paint some pipes, for instance.  Wish it came with some in-app music options, I could totally see zenning out in here. (Side note, I just noticed SculptiVR, that looks like another good one to get)

Dreadhalls (Gear VR, Rift): I’ve only played the Gear VR version so far (we’re getting into a weird place with having to re-buy the same game for various VR platforms…) but yeah, it’s very scary so it’s probably good on the Rift too.

Conclusion:

I’ve only brushed the surface, new VR apps are being released daily.

If you’ve got a favorite, let me know. I’m especially looking for room scale games that will get my heart rate going.